|<- Master and Commander||HMS Surprise ->|
Returning home from Mahon as a passenger, Jack receives terrible news—France and Britian have signed the Peace of Amiens, ending their war. This means there is very little chance of him getting a ship, still less of being promoted to post captain, a rank that assures eventual promotion to admiral if only you can live long enough.
He, Stephen, and a group of old Sophies head to Mapes, outside London, to enjoy their fortunes, and there they meet Mrs. Williams, who becomes obsessed with marrying her daughter Sophie to Jack if only widowed cousin Diana Villiers doesn’t get him first. While Jack is rather attracted to both women, Stephen has fallen for Diana, and though she has an affair with him, she makes it quite clear she doesn’t intend to stop pursuing Jack, causing Stephen great pain.
Jack and Stephen flee to France when Jack’s prize agent absconds with his money, leaving him subject to arrest for an enormous debt. They arrive at Toulon, where they dine with Christy-Pallière, the captain who captured them in the Sophie.
Stephen, meanwhile, makes discrete observations of naval build-up there, having been recruited into the Navy’s intelligence service by it’s head Sir Joseph Blaine. Blaine, a fellow naturalist, has become a very good friend. Stephen hates Bonaparte because he feels he betrayed the Revolution, while also having a stake in Catalonia’s independence from Spain, a cause opposed by the French and, therefore, supported by the British.
Learning that France is going to declare war, Stephen helps Jack escape (disguised as a bear) across the Spanish border to Stephen’s Catalonian estate, and then overland to Gibraltar (Spain is still technically neutral).
They arrive back in London after being briefly captured by the privateer Bellone, but find that all the post ships have already been crewed—Jack must renounce his claim to be made post and seek an assignment as a master and commander if he has any hopes of going to sea, clearing his debt, and marrying either Sophie or Diana. He briefly considers captaining a privateer being financed by Canning, a Jewish gentleman, but instead accepts command of HM Sloop Polycrest, a badly constructed experimental vessel operating under Admiral Harte out of the Plymouth Downs.
Although he sinks the Bellone (and takes particular satisfaction in it), Jack’s frequent trips ashore to have an affair with Diana and his failure to capture prizes (the Polycrest is a poor sailer, poorly armed and impossible to disguise) nearly give Harte grounds to break him. In addition, Jack’s draconian first lieutenant brings the crew to the brink of mutiny.
When Stephen returns from one of his now-frequent intelligence missions, Jack accuses him of lying about being in Ireland, and two plan to fight a duel with this insult as a pretext. The unspoken cause, of course, is the fact that both of them are pursuing Diana.
Jack loses his will to fight when he learns Diana has chosen Canning over either of them, and on the day of the duel, the Polycrest is ordered to sea by Harte on a suicide mission into a harbor filled with dangerous shoals and protected by French batteries to steal a French ship. Jack narrowly avoids a mutiny en route. The unmaneuverable Polycrest runs aground and is sadly mauled, but Jack heroically rows across the harbor in boats, cuts out the ship, uses it to tow the Polycrest off the reef, and with their combined power destroys a few gunboats in the bargain, although the Polycrest sinks outside the harbor.
Stephen and Jack bury their dispute while Stephen treats Jack's wounds, Jack is promoted to post, but is without a command, unlikely to get one dues to his father’s controversial political activities, and therefore at constant risk of arrest. Stephen solves this problem when he learns, on an intelligence mission abroad, Spain intends to declare war once four treasure ships have arrived from the New World, and convinces Sir Joseph to put Jack in temporary command of the HMS Lively while its captain attends Parliament. The English squadron attacks, Jack captures two ships himself, and, expecting to be fabulously wealthy due to these prizes, looks forward to marrying Sophie. (6/29/04)